Stay on order for 2nd majority-Black US House district in La

A federal appeals court has halted enforcement of a district judge’s order for Louisiana to redraw new congressional districts by June 20 to include a second majority Black district.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acted Thursday night, hours after U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick refused to put a hold on her order.

Dick’s order would require a racial gerrymander that itself would violate the Voting Rights Act, lawyers for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin wrote in a motion filed Friday.

In a motion filed Thursday, State Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder argued, “To conduct the 2022 election with two majority-Black districts would risk a widespread equal-protection violation.”

Ardoin said Dick ignored legal precedent and election officials.

“Instead, the district court cherry picks evidence, relies upon testimony of a lawyer for the Governor who has never administered an election in Louisiana, and discounts established Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent,” his motion argued.

The state Attorney General’s Office filed a third motion.

“Their motions rest in large part on asking this Court to disregard the district court’s findings of fact, ignoring or mischaracterizing the district court’s legal analysis and the evidentiary record, and urging arguments that are contrary to binding case law,” responded attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents one of the two groups of voters who challenged the plan.

“Defendants point to nothing in the district court’s order that indicates it made a mistake of law or fact,” said lawyers for the other group.

Cortez and Schexnayder said Friday that a special session called to revise district lines should be canceled.

“Before the judicial redistricting process is complete, any special session would be premature and a waste of taxpayer money,” they wrote.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has called for a redistricting session from June 15-20, said it’s too early to cancel the session.

“Given the expedited timeline, there will likely be additional action by the Fifth Circuit on the stay request before the session is set to begin on June 15,” said a news release from his office.

If the court continues the hold, the session should be delayed until it makes a decision, he said in a letter to the legislators.

“While I am mindful of the costs to the taxpayers as pointed out in your press release, it is clear that the state would have saved the unknown thousands of dollars being spent on out-of-state lawyers if the legislature had originally enacted maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act and the standard of fundamental fairness,” he wrote. “It is not too late for the legislature to do the right thing.”

He had vetoed the new districts, saying that since Louisiana is nearly one-third African American, a single majority-Black district violates the Voting Rights Act.

However, the Republican-dominated legislature overrode his veto.

Court papers for Ardoin call the deadline “unworkable” — an argument that Dick described as “insincere and not persuasive.”

The state requires seven days’ notice of the start of the session and three days for bill reading, she wrote. That “would require ten days total, and this Court gave the Legislature fourteen,” she said.

Kathryn Sadasivan, redistricting counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the new map “continues to pack Black voters from New Orleans and Baton Rouge into a single congressional district despite the significant changes in the Black population and the shared interests and needs of Black voters in Baton Rouge and the Delta parishes” north of Baton Rouge along and east of the Mississippi River.

She said Dick’s 152-page ruling recognized that the single majority African American district dilutes Black political power.

“We are confident that the November primary election is sufficiently far away to allow this decision to stand,” Sadasivan wrote.

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